by Sheldon Richman
What America needs most today is a peace movement, a broad-based coalition that opposes not only the American empire’s operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (as well as less overt activities elsewhere), but also their attendant accretion of presidential power, which diminishes or eliminates civil liberties and the traditional protections accorded criminal suspects.
Unfortunately, there have been impediments to the development of this long-overdue movement. People on the Right typically are not inclined to oppose wars. Even if they are uneasy about a given war, they equate anti-war activity with left-wing opposition to the military, failure to support the troops, and lack of patriotism. If a Republican is running the war, they are even less likely to make a fuss. Some on the Right are authentically anti-empire and are ready to join an anti-war coalition, but they seem to be waiting for others to take the initiative.
The Left of course is much more comfortable opposing war and executive power and did so during the reign of George W. Bush. But they can alienate potential nonleft coalition members by stressing their interventionist domestic agenda.
A more recent problem with the Left is Barack Obama. With a few exceptions, Obama’s election has silenced the critics of empire, invasion, occupation, Predator bombings, and civil-liberties destruction. Maybe they feel he is one of them, so they are giving him time to get settled in before he begins to dismantle the empire. Well, Obama is into his 17th month and there has been scant progress on that front. It’s safe to say that he has no intention of scaling back, much less liquidating the empire.
Maybe that’s why a group of prominent leftist intellectuals, activists, and actors has ended the ceasefire and has finally criticized Obama’s war policies. It’s about time. In a statement placed in the New York Review of Books, headlined “Crimes Are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them,” the group said, “Crimes under Bush are crimes under Obama and must be resisted by anyone who claims a shred of conscience.”
The group specifically referred to Obama’s ordering the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and radical Muslim cleric living in Yemen, “because he is suspected of participating in plots by Al Qaeda.” The statement notes that “Al-Awlaki denies these charges. No matter. Without trial or other judicial proceeding, the administration has simply put him on the to-be-killed list.”
The Obama administration claims it has the right to kill people such as al-Awlaki, who has been linked to the shooter at Fort Hood and the would-be airplane bomber over Detroit last year. This is an extraordinary claim of unilateral executive power. Al-Awlaki, who has made inflammatory statements about killing American civilians, is not operating on a traditional battlefield but rather is suspected — having never been charged or tried — of engaging in illegal activities.
Thus a president who spared no criticism of the horrendous powers claimed by the Bush-Cheney administration has one-upped his predecessor by openly declaring the authority to murder even American citizens. Why aren’t all Obama supporters expressing their disgust over this despotic policy?
The statement also singled out massacres committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, cover-ups or dissembling after those events, and homicides represented as suicides at Guantanamo Bay.
“In some respects this is worse than Bush,” the statement continues. “Obama says that the government can detain you indefinitely, even if you have been exonerated in a trial, and he has publicly floated the idea of ’preventive detention.’ [And] the Obama administration, in expanding the use of unmanned drone attacks, argues that the U.S. has the authority under international law to use extrajudicial killing in sovereign countries with which it is not at war.”
Acts that might have been “anomalies” under Bush, the group notes, “have now been consecrated into ‘standard operating procedure’ by Obama, who claims, as did Bush, executive privilege and state secrecy in defending the crime of aggressive war.”
It closes with an appeal to “end this complicity of silence.” This is a hopeful sign, indeed. Maybe it’s the spark that’s needed to launch a real peace movement so that this immoral and criminal behavior will finally stop.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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